Monday, September 30, 2013

Top-5 Personal Lessons of Marathon Training

Training for a 5K race and training for a marathon are vastly different. Forget the obvious distance differential, that's the least of the differences.

Lessons Learned

For an elite athlete, or one that has realistic expecations of winning any race, the training for a short or long race is not so different. Either way, it requires a great deal of time.

For the recreational runner like me, a guy who wants to check a few things off his bucket list and then evaluate the future, half-marathon and marathon training have taught me a few things. Some of the things I considered at the beginning, but, in my typical fashion, I overestimated my ability to overcome. 

Here are the top-five things I've learned these past few months.

5. It's harder than 5K training. When I ran my first 11-mile training run, I finished and thought, "That isn't even half-way," when compared to a marathon. I ran my first 13-mile distance in 90-degree heat a few weeks ago and it took me several days to recover. Again, I thought "That was barely half-way there." My first honest-to-goodness half-marathon race is in less than two weeks. I know I can finish the distance, maybe even ahead of some people, but make no mistake, it has been a physical and mental struggle to get to this point.

4. It's harder than 5K training, mentally.  I remain motivated to finish both the half and full, and I'm certain I'll be able to do it.  I must say, however, that it gets harder with every maintenance run and every long run to summon the same verve I had a few weeks ago. The 13-miler took as much out of me mentally as physically. Since that time, I've missed some runs and had to dig deep not to lose ground. 

3. Encouragement matters. As word gets around, people congratulate you on the undertaking. It feels good and provides some much needed motivation. A certain percentage of the people most assuredly think I'm stupid for doing it, but they're easy to spot. The sincere remarks have an impact.

2. My body doesn't respond as quickly as it used to. In past years, when I demanded something of myself physically, my body returned with a hearty "Let's roll!" Now, past 40, it says, "I'll get back to you on that one, maybe." I estimated that I'd be much further along in my per-mile pace at this point, but at least I'm able to get out there and do it. 

1. It requires a commitment from the whole family. Real runners, great runners can put in a 13-mile training run in well under 1.5 hours. My only training run at that distance took me 3 hours. Yes, conditions were unbearable, but under the best of conditions it would have taken 2.5.  With three maintenance runs and one long run, running can take a big bite out of the free time you have in a week. My family time has suffered, which has been the worst part of this little journey.  I'm fortunate that everyone is on-board with this. I've found that running requires as much mental well-being as any other sport. Being worried about something, or having loads on the mind, has an impact on performance and motivation.

I'm fortunate for the family I have, the relative good health I've been given, and the ability to continue. It's been harder than I expected, but I'm glad to be able to put one foot in front of the other as many times as it requires.

I'd like to hear from those of you who have been down this road. Let us all hear in the comments!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Slow Motion: Another Dad Moment

Not my child. Not her dress.
My 10-year old daughter is beginning to enter a realm where the times my impact on her is
plainly seen are fewer. I hate to see her grow, but love seeing her grow. Ya know?

My six-year old daughter, however, still frequently reminds me how important I am in her life. There are moments with the older one, still, but the little one is all about daddy.

This morning, while getting ready for school, her first choice of the day's attire was dirty, having been worn twice already this week (Said "yes" to day two, but three was pushing it). The next choice, even by my standards, was not a good one, because it's PE day at school. Her third choice left her uncertain, but she put it on.

As she brushed her hair, she kept looking at her dress (I made her put bike shorts on underneath. After all, it's gym day) and moving altogether too slow for my taste. Finally, I said, "Sweetie, you look beautiful. I love the dress." BOOM. Smile and a whole 'nother gear. Now we're moving toward getting out the door. 

As she bounced around and as I tied my tie, I realized I had made an impact. I replayed her smile in my mind and thought of how she needs to hear things from me. The same thing from mom is good, too, but when daddy also approves, it must be good. I need to be reminded of that from time to time. Reminded that I am important. Reminded they need me.

I'm forever telling them how smart they are when they've done something well, pointing out when they've been a good friend, or when they've shown generosity, and so on. Little girls don't just need to hear they're pretty, but when they do, it is meaningful.

I live in a home full of girls, including the two kittens we recently acquired, so rarely do I get to say, "Dude, that superhero shirt is killing it!" I don't even know if that's something that would be said.  But, I'm sure something appropriate would carry as much weight with boys as with girls.

I like moments like this. When everything is moving at the speed of light, when I can't even think clearly because of all the activities and time flying away, a moment where I clearly see my child's smile and happiness in slow motion is priceless.

 Image courtesy petuniad.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is This Happening?

My dad, a few years before his stroke.
May 1989

When I visited my parents' house around 5:00 p.m., I usually found my dad sitting at the table, watching the news and smoking a cigarette after having worked in the garden, tended to the cattle, or any number of other things that could happen under direct sunlight.

This day appeared to be no different. I walked in the front door and said, "Hey." He was at the table, watching television and trying to hold and light his cigarette. He dropped it a couple of times before giving up on the task for a moment. 

As I went to get a drink and some food out of the frig, he began telling me about working in the garden and how it was coming along, and how unusually hot it had been for a day in May. 

In between my munching and gulping, I noticed that his speech didn't sound quite right, a little slurred. I was about 21, so his 51 years seemed ancient to me. I instantly thought he had gotten too hot and was tired, or he had drank one too many beers due to the heat. But, I watched him continue to unsuccessfully light his cigarette. He'd drop it, pick it up, and drop it again. 

I asked him if he was ok. He said he was. I looked at his face. Something looked a little different, but if the slurred speech and cigarette trouble weren't happening, I wouldn't have noticed. 

After another minute or two, he went to lie down and was unsteady on his feet.

I thought, "Is this happening?" It seemed like a stroke, but it took me another couple of minutes to act on my feeling. I called my mother and brother. We went to the hospital. He seemed to feel better. The doctor sent him home.

Later that night, he had another, more significant episode. We went back to the hospital.

At the hospital, after the second episode, we learned that he had suffered a significant stroke and that the initial episode had been a smaller one. He survived, but in the days and weeks to come, we learned the extent of the stroke. His right side had been severely affected. He had no use of his right arm, no use of his right leg and the right side of his face had no movement.

He eventually regained some use of his leg and was able to walk short distances with a cane. His face returned to normal, but he never regained any use of his arm. His mind was not affected and his speech returned to normal, thankfully.

It seems strange to say, but he became more emotional after the stroke. He was much more prone to happiness and sadness, tears of joy or tears of pain. 

The stroke happened in 1989. Dad passed away in 2011. He lived and enjoyed his life for over 20 years after the stroke, but he would never mend another fence, never help another old mother cow deliver her calf, never toss his granddaughters into the air or run and play with them, though he wanted to, so badly.

All of this could possibly have been avoided. 

Please. Learn to see the signs. Learn to act and not think, "Is this happening?"


Visit the American Stroke Association and learn, and consider helping to further research here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Easiest Lesson Lost

Curmudgeon speak
After this post, I'll seem like a curmudgeon. So be it.

Any trip to Lowe's (or Home Depot), Wal-Mart (or Kmart), or, as it happens, Qdoba (and, quite possibly, Chipotle), or any place of business, for that matter, has the distinct possibility of ending badly. When I'm forced to visit, well, anywhere, I've become adept at picking out the "high speed, low drag" representatives.  

The Lesson to be Learned

I know it's difficult to go into work as a front line, minimum wage employee of John's Box Store with the attitude of "How can I help you? And, I mean that!"  I've been there and failed as often as I succeeded in keeping a good attitude. What I recognized, even as a lazy college student, was that I was working more for myself than "for the man."

Which helped me do a decent job.

Which, with minimal effort, I might add, separated me from others in my position. 

It taught me that if I work harder/better, I can improve my lot.

I've often thought this will quite possibly be the easiest lesson I will teach my children, because it generally works. It's provable. If they try it, they'll see it and feel it in everything they do.

But, Maybe I'm Wrong?

Because, that line of thinking seems to be disappearing. The high-speed individuals are harder to find, they're nearing extinction.

If you guessed that what moved me to think about this particular topic was something I've experienced lately, you're right. 

It was the three young gents at a local chain restaurant in the business of selling burritos that, apparently, were not excited about selling me a burrito.

It was the lady at a locally-owned dance studio that was upset someone forgot to turn the "open" sign to "closed" before I came in to buy dance lessons for my in-laws. A problem she rectified before saying to me, "What do you need?" I did not make a purchase. She did not care.

The good thing about both instances was that my children witnessed them. I used them as "teaching moments."  After the latter incident, my 10-year old said, "She was like the boys at [burrito place]?" 

This sort of thing is repeated everywhere, everyday. It is still counterbalanced with instances of great service and assistance, but the balance is tipping in the wrong direction. 

The Good News

The good news is, for my children and yours, the workplace could be easy pickings in a few more years. That is, if the motor of the world hasn't stopped. 

If they're willing to do a good job for their employers, or themselves, they'll succeed quite readily. If they take the prevailing attitude about life and their lot in it, they'll be miserably happy wallowers. I hope they'll chose the road less traveled and become a person that people will seek out.

Just as I feared. I'm a curmudgeon.

Who is John Galt?

Photo courtesy

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Best Encouragement Ever

I was completely wiped out after running 13.1 miles on Sunday afternoon. The heat and the distance, my longest ever, did me no favors.

I immediately felt better when I saw this message from my daughters on our windows. 

The fact that it is backwards made it even better! The right encouragement from the right people can work miracles.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top 10 Takeaways from My First 13.1 Mile Run

So, this past weekend was my "long run" weekend. Every other weekend my distance increases by two miles. The run for this particular weekend was 13 miles, my longest run ever. I decided to make it 13.1 to get the full half-marathon experience.

The Plan
The sun was not my friend.

The plan was to get up early, like 5:30, to get the run in and recover before heading to church. As is typical
with me and early mornings, I didn't see 5:30. I reasoned that I would simply be too rushed to get my meal right and at the right time, warm up, run and get back home in time. I decided to wait until the afternoon to run. It was going to be hot, but I could handle it.

Error in Judgment

It was near 90 degrees during my run. It was miserable. A poor choice to run my longest distance in such conditions. The sun was a brutal enemy.

Near the end, my mind nearly talked me into calling my wife to come get me, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other until the finish. Along the way, I couldn't think of why I decided to do such a thing. After completing the distance, I feel great for having done it.

What are my top takeaways from the experience? Here are the Top 10:

10. Water from a dog fountain is just as good as water from a people fountain.
9. Toward the end of the run, as fatigue and short temper set in, cars seemed to drive faster, motorcycles became too loud, and they all drove closer to me than they should've even though I was generally on the sidewalk.
8. The fuel gels I used for the first time didn't provide the superhuman second wind I had expected.
7. The 22 ounce water bottle I was carrying weighed at least 40 pounds at mile 11.
6. I felt like I had been running for days.

The remaining five are more positive.

5. I truly do feel a sense of accomplishment. Only a few months ago, I couldn't envision running that far (though I did a fair amount of walking).
4. Water is a treasured resource.
3. Don't focus on the miles remaining. Just think positively and keep going.
2. Good shoes make a big difference.
1. Encouragement is the best energy boost. After I finished at my doorstep, my daughters had written congratulatory messages on their windows. That was the best part of the day!

The 13.1 milestone was huge, but it isn't the end goal. That comes in January. Next up, 15 miles on September 22.

Image courtesy bredgur.